Your track is mixed and you’re excited to distribute your new music.
But you may have some additional work ahead before your song is ready for global music distribution.
A rocket needs a launchpad. Cereal needs a box. And your music needs a few extras in order to reach the ears of listeners around the world
10 Things You Need Before You Release Music
1. Good Production & Songwriting
Before you think about music distribution, you should be proud of your songs and recordings. There’s too much great music out there to waste your precious time promoting lacklustre tracks.
Prioritize quality in both the composition and production. If you lose objectivity (don’t we all?), seek the guidance of musicians, engineers, producers, or aficionados you respect.
If you’re a member of ReverbNation, check the list of new music promo Opportunities every month to receive feedback from producers such as Tucker Martine and Mathew Dear.
Invest in your music by taking the time to get it right, while also acknowledging there’s no such thing as “perfection.” If you can’t achieve great results on your own, hire the right collaborators.
Of course “quality” is somewhat subjective, but your music will go a lot further if it sounds professional — from recording, to mixing, to mastering.
2. High-Quality, Mastered Audio
Speaking of quality, music mastering is important!
Mastering can add clarity and punch to your mix, but it also readies the track to sit alongside other songs on digital music platforms by adjusting the overall volume to industry standards.
Once your music is mastered, you’ll want:
- 24-bit WAV or FLAC files for your audiophile fans
- 16-bit WAV (44.1kHz) for music distribution
- Any enhanced or additional audio needs, such as a separate master for vinyl or immersive sound
3. Song titles and album name
Track titles? You need ‘em! But hopefully this isn’t too hard. You’ve probably ALREADY named the songs by the time they’re mastered.
Before you officially commit to song titles though, be sure the name is unique and avoids possible confusion with other artists. For instance, you probably don’t want to name every song on an album “Untitled Number 1” or “This is a Cardi B Song.”
As for titling a collection of songs, your EP or full-length album needs a name too!
The album name CAN be the same as one of the songs on the album, in which case that song would also be referred to as the “title track.” But it doesn’t have to be.
If you’re releasing a single, the track and the “release” will have the same title.
4. Artist name
This may sound obvious, but a unique, memorable, and consistent artist name is crucial.
It should be unique so your music does not get confused with other artists.
It should be memorable so listeners… remember you.
And it should be consistent across the metadata and the cover artwork. You don’t want it to appear on Spotify as “Mizz Artist Name” if the cover artwork says “Ms. Artist & the No Names.” Both should agree.
Your artist name should also be consistent from release to release. Otherwise your music will be spread out across multiple artist profiles, which is confusing for listeners and more work for you to manage. You may also be squandering any algorithmic traction you’ve established for your music under a different artist name.
The different types of artist name:
- Primary Artist: This is the main artist credited at the album level. Whether you’re an individual (Taylor Swift, Drake, Bob Dylan, etc.) or a group/band (Metallica, BTS, etc.) you would include that name as the primary artist.
- Compound Artist: This is two artist names that are combined as a single entity, becuse of a shared identity. Think Brooks & Dunn, Simon & Garfunkel, etc. Even though those artists may release music individually, when they collaborate, the compound artist or “group name outweighs the individual names. For instance, you wouldn’t see a Simon & Garfunkel release with the artist name “Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.”
- Artist with Backing Band: In a way, this is another kind of compound artist identity. Like, Prince and the Revolution, or Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. One thing to be aware of if you have a backing band, should you ever release music under JUST your name, it will appear on a different artist profile from the “artist with band” profile on platforms such as Spotify. That’s why Tom Petty solo albums are separate from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
- Multiple Primary Artists or “Collaborative” Artists: If the overall release is the result of a top-billing collaboration between artists who do not commonly unite (Robert Plant & Allison Krauss, Jay-Z & Kanye West, etc.), you can add more “Primary Artist” fields for the release. This will ensure the release appears in both artist’s individual discographies.
What about Features? To add a “featuring” credit to individual tracks, see the details in the next section!
5. Your Collaborators’ Names
Do you have featured guests on the track? Is it a remix by a talented producer? Are you working with another artist who should get equal billing in the artist name?
Be sure to have those discussions with your collaborators about if and how they’d like to be credited. If they do want public credit included in the metadata for the release, be sure to format the collaborators’ names correctly. (More on that below).
You can credit the following kinds of contributors for your track:
Keep in mind that while collabs can be great for reaching other artists’ audience, not every musician you work with will automatically want to appear in your discography (and vice versa).
Now, if they do want a contributor credit, here are…
Three things to understand about featured artists:
- Features should NOT be credited at the album level. They are associated with individual tracks.
- Do NOT list all session players as featured guests. The purpose of the featuring credit is to highlight very specific standout contributions (a duet vocal, a rap verse, a notable guitar solo, etc.) These are NOT liner notes.
- As a general guideline, if the person already has their own artist profile on DSPs, you may want to consider listing them as a featured artist. If they don’t? Don’t. Not only does that criteria help you assess whether the contributor merits the credit, but it also determines whether there is any cross-audience promotional benefit from the official “featured artist” credit.
6. Cover art and associated visuals
Speaking of cover art, you’ll need an image for every release you sign up for music distribution.
The cover artwork for your album or single often creates the first impression someone has of your music on a streaming platform, even before they hear the songs. Don’t look amateur.
If you already have design skills, you probably know your way around Photoshop. Lack confidence in Photoshop? Canva is an easy tool that can deliver great results. Got a vision for your artwork but zero design skills? Image-generation tools like Midjourney or Dall-E can be a huge help.
Your cover design should reflect your music’s mood and genre in a compelling way. It CAN contain text, but doesn’t need to. If it DOES contain text, it’s recommended that the text match the artist name and album title exactly.
As far as visual content, your cover art can be a photo of you, an abstract painting, an AI-generated daydream, or any other approach. But it should follow DSP cover-art guidelines and be unique to your release. You don’t want to use the same cover art for multiple albums or singles.
Although many people will only view the image as a thumbnail or on their smartphones, it’s always recommended to upload the highest-resolution image file possible when you distribute your music, because a lot of listening happens on smart TVs.
Your cover artwork should be:
- JPG or PNG format
- At least 3000×3000 pixels in size
- A perfect square (1:1 aspect ratio)
Also, be aware that certain platforms (such as Spotify) prioritize looping vertical video above static cover artwork. Which is why we recommend you create a Spotify Canvas for every track prior to release.
7. Accurate Music Metadata
Metadata is just a fancy word for “additional information about your music.”
It’s all the OTHER stuff that gets delivered along with the track. And in fact, we’ve already mentioned a few key points of metadata above.
Metadata can fall into three main categories:
- Descriptive — helping people find the exact music they’re searching for:
- Artist name
- Song title
- Release date
- Cover art
- Main genre
- Ownership — helping the correct people and companies get paid:
- Label name
- Song publisher
- Songwriter (composer & lyricist)
- Recommendation — helping listeners and algorithms surface the right music for a mood or occasion:
- BPM and key
- Explicit Content / Parental Advisory
Not all DSPs request or display metadata in the same way, so just be sure to provide your distributor with as much accurate info as they allow during the music distribution signup process.
If you are given the opportunity to provide additional info in a separate process — for instance, via Spotify for Artist’s direct pitching tool — do it! It may seem like a small thing, but robust metadata can mean the difference between obscurity and discovery.
IMPORTANT: A lot of artists are inclined to list trendy genres and sounds-like artists, thinking it will bring their music more attention. But accuracy is far more important than trendiness.
Recommendation engines are designed to deliver the right music to the right people. The more that listeners engage, the more widely the platform will share your music.
Don’t try to game the system by gaining the wrong kind of early attention; it will be counterproductive. The algorithms will have “proof” that people don’t like your music. When in fact, all that happened was you gave inaccurate metadata that caused the track to be shared to the wrong audience.
8. UPC and ISRC codes
Don’t fret about these too much. They’re both provided by most distributors if you don’t have a UPC and ISRCs assigned already.
The UPC is a product identifier for the overall album/release. It’s like the barcode on a box of cereal that gets scanned at the grocery store.
ISRCs are track-level identifiers. Sound-recording codes.
UPCs and ISRCs help music platforms keep track of what’s being listened to, and who to pay for that activity.
IMPORTANT: If you release a song as a single, and then later include that same recording in an album, be sure to keep the ISRC the same. That’s what will tally stream counts together so all the plays the single already garnered get associated with the same track on the album. You can do this as long as it’s the same recording (not a drastically different mix, version, or edit).
9. Release date
This is simple. And also not that simple.
When do you want the song to appear for listeners? Simple! Provide that date. Your music distributor will tell the streaming platform, and the platforms will do their best to publish the music on that day.
However, the part that needs some additional consideration is…
… will your desired release date give you enough time to plan promotion?
… to take advantage of related opportunities such as Spotify’s playlist pitching feature (which requires delivery of the track more than a week in advance of its release)?
… and are you giving yourself enough wiggle room for second-guessing and your own human error during the distribution process?
You might not think that last one is common, but I can tell you after 18 years experience in music distribution, musicians change their minds about things last-minute all the time.
When you set your release date, make sure to strike a balance between excitement, patience, and realism.
10. The best distribution for your music
No matter which distributor you choose, you’ll need the first nine things on this list.
Then it’s time to make a decision about which service is best for your music distribution, royalty collection, and promotion.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and different artists will favor one distributor over another for different reasons.
Some things to consider when comparing music distributors:
- Size of the distribution network
- Extra promo, monetization, or A&R features
- Responsiveness to your questions
- Community and education
- Whether there are one-time signup fees, annual fees, or — like with BandLab’s music distribution —the services comes included with membership
If you’re a career-minded musician who wants dependable distribution, rock-solid client support, and an absolutely unstoppable roster of new, prestige, promo opportunities coming your way every single month, join ReverbNation today!
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Some of these were mentioned above. But let’s review.
Make sure you DON’T:
- Rush your release. You don’t get another chance for this music to meet the world, so plan, be patient, and do it right.
- Credit the wrong people as “featured artists”: Again, these aren’t liner notes. Be selective about who you shine the spotlight on.
- Put “Features” in the Primary Artist Name: That’s a big no-no! Looks sloppy and it’s a pain for many distributors to fix (if they agree to address it at all).
- Underestimate metadata. Inaccurate info can lead to discoverability issues.
- Have inconsistent ISRCs between the single and album: If it’s the same recording between the single and a later album appearance, keep the ISRC identical!
- Use the same cover artwork for two or more releases: DSPs and distributors won’t always catch this one, but it’s technically frowned upon and COULD get your music removed.
- List the wrong publisher: Royalties and rights management are important. If it’s a cover song, know the correct publisher. If it’s a traditional or Public Domain track, list the publisher as Public Domain.
- Have a disagreement between the metadata and the text on the cover artwork: The album name and artist name you list should match the way it’s written on your artwork.
- Ignore Pre-Launch Promo. While you’re prepping for distribution, be sure to build anticipation so your release can have the biggest impact once its live.
By checking off the items on this list and steering clear of common pitfalls, you’ll set yourself up for a successful music release and painless music distribution.
And as you release more music in the future, you may need to refer back to this list again. We hope to see you then as your music catalog continues to grow.
Best of luck on your musical journey!